Sports: May 19, 1999
Take it outside, Chris
Basketball star Chris Young '02 moves to the mound
One of our most enduring cultural clichés is the All-American athlete -- the kid who excels at the leadership positions in several of our national sports. From Jim Thorpe to Bo Jackson, multi-sport athletes have gripped this country's attention, and the image of the small-town kid who stars at point guard and pitcher for his high school team endures in our books and movies. Well, last winter Princeton found a kid in Texas who would fit that cliché like a XL uniform -- if he weren't far too big to fit any standard size shirt or pair of pants. And ever since Chris Young '02 arrived on campus, we sportswriters, who rely so heavily on stock characters, have struggled to categorize an athlete who is superbly coordinated and has a nasty fastball, yet stands 6'10" and is the center, not the point guard, for the basketball team.
But categorize him we must, for Young has become Princeton's story of the year in two sports. By the end of this last basketball season, Young may have been the best freshman center in the country. He was the rookie of the year in the Ivy League, Basketball Weekly named him to their All-Rookie First Team, and he finished the season by scoring 57 points in the Tigers' three NIT games -- heady stuff for any first-year athlete. But he wasn't done. While the other basketball players cleaned out their lockers in Jadwin, Young just moved his gear down the hall. A mere four days after the basketball team's season-ending loss to Xavier, Young began practicing with the baseball team, and exactly one week later he threw three hitless innings against St. Joe's, striking out six. Over the next month, Young proved that his first appearance was no fluke, as, despite his abbreviated preseason, he soon emerged as the team's top starter, compiling a 4-1 record with two complete games and an ERA just over one. He's been Ivy Rookie of the Week twice so far in baseball -- adding to the eight weekly awards he won during the basketball season.
On the basketball team, Young's size was a luxury, giving head coach Bill Carmody a legitimate shot-blocking center who could match up against the big men on the large-conference teams. But in baseball, where Young is at least a head taller than his teammates, his size is a true rarity. Young is an imposing presence on the mound. He is the height of Randy Johnson, yet while Johnson is all flailing hair and knees and elbows, Young pitches with a fluidity that belies his size. Furthermore, since he is also almost uniquely in proportion for a man his height, Young appears out of perspective every time he walks out onto the diamond, like a pre-Renaissance monastic painting where Christ is bigger than Jerusalem. Our eyes are not used to seeing a 6'10" man standing in the center of a square whose sides we know to be neatly defined as 90 feet.
As a pitcher, Young uses his disquieting presence to his advantage. Like his fellow Texans and heroes Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan, Young relies primarily on his fastball, only resorting to his slider and curve when he gets into trouble. In the Ivy League, where teams rarely have a book on opposing hitters, Young sticks to his own gameplan. "I try to pitch to my strengths," he says, "not the hitter's weaknesses." His strengths include a fastball that ranges from 86-90 mph and is complemented by his unusually high release point. Despite his physical gifts, however, head coach Scott Bradley claims that what makes Young an outstanding pitcher is his pitch selection and placement. "The best thing about Chris as a pitcher is his head," Bradley says. "He's not overpowering -- he doesn't throw 95. He just knows how to pitch and how to win."
Both Young and Bradley say that part of the reason Young has been so successful on the diamond stems from his experiences on the basketball team. "I felt that if I could do it in the gym, I could do it on the field," Young says. In fact, the link between baseball and basketball is one of the reasons Young decided to attend Princeton over other suitors, such as Texas. "I started playing baseball first," he says, "but I love both sports. I didn't want to have to choose between them." While talking with both Carmody and Bradley during the recruiting process, Young became convinced that they would both support him as a two-sport athlete. He was right. "They've been really accepting," Young says. Bradley, in particular, made an extra effort to accommodate Young's full schedule; during the last few months of the basketball season, the two threw a couple times a week after basketball practice in an effort to get Young's arm ready for the spring. Still, the abbreviated regimen almost certainly hindered his development. "There's nothing like throwing off the mound," Young says. "I felt really good right when I started pitching, but I hit a dead-arm period for about two weeks."
Dead arm or not, Young's arrival had a dramatic impact on the baseball team. The Tigers were 3-10 before Young's first appearance on the mound, yet have gone 19-6 since, including an 11-game win streak. The team clinched its fourth consecutive Gehrig division title with a full week remaining in the season. Bradley, for one, believes that the timing of the turnaround wasn't coincidental. "I think Chris has as good an athletic makeup as anyone I've been around," he says. "The way he goes about his business makes it clear he just wants to get better, and the rest of the team picks up on that. He doesn't say much, but his example has helped everyone -- especially the pitchers -- raise their level."
And pitching is the strength of this year's team. The Tigers' staff leads the Ivy League in ERA, giving up just 3.27 earned runs per game, and Princeton is the only team allowing less than a hit an inning. The pitchers have helped make up for what has so far been an anemic offense -- Princeton is near the bottom of the league in runs, batting average, and extra base hits. The exception at the plate has been Matt Evans '99, who recently became Princeton's all-time extra base hit leader with 70 (46 doubles, 1 triple, 23 homeruns) and leads the team with .344 batting average and .608 slugging percentage. But Princeton, which met Harvard in the best-of-three Ivy League Championships on May 8-9, will need several other bats to come alive if it is to advance to the NCAAs for the first time since 1996.
Young's last start before the championships was the first loss of his career. The game, against Cornell, came on a fine Friday afternoon when no Tiger player could do anything right. Young was fighting a lower back strain that had robbed him of his control, and the defense behind him kicked more balls than the soccer team. In two innings, Young gave up seven runs (only two earned) on four hits and three walks. During the postgame interview, Young was quietly but clearly furious -- at himself. "It was my fault," he said. "I put too many guys on base. I've got to take care of my job." After the game, Bradley, perhaps impressed with the way his rookie pitcher had handled his first encounter with adversity, announced that Young would start the first game against Harvard.
Much of Young's time off the field has been consumed by academics -- which is another reason he chose Princeton. "I wanted to compete at a high level," he says, "but I also wanted to get a great education." So far, that education has included a sideline chat with Bill Bradley '65 -- another man who knows something about basketball -- while the team was at Dartmouth. "He was taller than I thought," Young says of the 6'7" Bradley. Did the two discuss what it is like to be a highly regarded athlete at Princeton? "I don't really remember," Young says. "He asked me a bunch of questions, and I mostly said 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir.'"
Given the chance, Young thinks he would follow Bradley's example and play on the professional level. "I've got a couple of years," he says, "but I don't think I could pass it up. I also believe that you should try to be the best at anything you do and make the most of the opportunities you're given." Clichés from a player who breaks clichés, yet Young almost makes them sound fresh. Perhaps that's why the basketball team elected the rookie Young cocaptain for next year, and perhaps that's why the baseball team is already relying on him to lead it into the NCAA tournament this spring.
-- Wes Tooke '98
Women lose Ivy lacrosse title to Dartmouth
The Princeton women's lacrosse team's 8-7 loss at Dartmouth on April 24 was an exceptionally costly one for the Tigers. Not only did the game stir memories of last year's painful 10-9 overtime loss to the Big Green, it also secured Dartmouth its fourth Ivy title in five years and denied Princeton the Ivy crown. The loss dropped the Tigers to 10-3 on the year and left them ranked sixth in the country with a week left in the regular season.
According to Christi Samaras '99, Princeton's much decorated cocaptain, the difference in the game lay in Dartmouth's poise. "They had a game plan and stuck to it," she says. "We weren't as poised, and it's not an effort a lot of us are proud of." The team certainly couldn't have been pleased with its sluggish first half, in which Dartmouth jumped to a 5-2 lead. "We didn't come out with the intensity and confidence that we needed," cocaptain defender Lucy Small '99 said after the game. "I think [the poor start] really hurt us in the end."
The Tigers weren't much better early in the second half, as Dartmouth extended its lead to 7-3. But just as Dartmouth seemed to have put the game away, Princeton swiftly rallied. Tice Burke '99 scored with 12 and a half minutes left in the game, then assisted Samaras and Hilary Maddox '00 before Julie Shaner '01 knotted the contest at 7-7 with three minutes left. With only 13 seconds left, however, Dartmouth midfielder Liz Merritt rendered Princeton's heroics moot by scoring the winner.
Samaras says the game is typical of Princeton's season: "We've been scared against teams like Dart-mouth. We have a lot of girls who don't know what it's like to walk on the field and expect to win." She points to the Tigers' last few seasons as the cause of her teammates' tentativeness in key situations. After a string of successes -- winning the NCAA title in 1994, finishing second in 1993 and 1995, and reaching the Final Four in 1996 -- Princeton finished 7-7 in 1997 and lost to the University of Virginia in the NCAA quarterfinals last year. "We weren't prepared to be as good as we are," Samaras says. "We're kind of scared of how good we are. We're a little awestruck in big situations."
Princeton has had its moments, beating Virginia (9-8, in triple overtime), Penn State, Rutgers, and Yale, all four of which will likely make the NCAA tournament. The Tigers have also dropped games to Duke and Georgetown, both playoff teams. And on April 28, in the team's finest game of the year, Princeton lost to top-ranked Maryland 8-7 in overtime. The Tigers' defense was outstanding, as they held Maryland, which had been averaging 16 goals per game, to just 13 shots. Based partially on their performance in that game, the Tigers earned the fourth seed -- and accompanying bye -- in the 12-team NCAA tournament and played either Penn State or West Chester on May 8 in 1952 Stadium.
Both Samaras and head coach Chris Sailer say the team's freshmen have been critical to its success. All eight were either high school All-Americas or honorable mention All-Americas. "We knew they were the best freshmen class we've ever recruited," Sailer says. They've certainly proved it on the field. Jessica Nelson and Brooks Owens start on defense, and classmates Charlotte Kenworthy and Kim Smith start on attack. Kenworthy has notched 15 goals and three assists, while Smith is the team's third leading scorer with 27 goals and nine assists, including the game-winning goal in a 10-8 overtime win over the University of Delaware. "They don't play like they're freshman," says Samaras.
But despite their contributions, Samaras is still the heart of the team. The 1998 Ivy League player of the year and member of the U.S. national team rushed back from knee surgery in early November for the start of the season in early March, and she's been spectacular, leading Princeton in scoring with 37 goals and seven assists. Many of those goals have come courtesy of feeds from Burke, the team's second leading scorer with 18 goals and 23 assists. Sailer cites Burke's emergence as a key to the team's success.
Coming into the season, Samaras hoped to capture both Ivy and national titles and, though the first has been lost, she still believes the second may yet be won. "I don't think we've peaked yet," she says. "I don't think we've put all the parts of our game together."
-- David Marcus '92
Sports shorts: lacrosse, softball, crew
Even Bill Tierney, who has coached Princeton to five national titles, seemed stunned as he walked off the field. "This might have been the greatest game I've ever seen," he said. "It's hard to say anything other than 'wow.'"
Tierney had just watched his team, which needed to beat Syracuse to assure itself a spot in the NCAA tournament, win on a perfect shot by midfielder Josh Sims '00 with 25 seconds left in the fourth overtime period. That shot completed a perfect weekend for the Tigers, who had beaten Cornell 9-6 the previous day to clinch the Ivy title.
But it will be the game against Syracuse, the longest game in either program's history, that the Princeton players and coaches will always remember. Princeton, sparked by a suddenly creative and explosive offense, held a 9-6 lead at halftime, but for the final 42:50 of the game neither team held more than a one goal advantage and the teams were tied eight times.
After the game, Syracuse's Ryan Powell, who led both teams with four goals and four assists, said, "It was fun to be involved in a game like that. It was a great college lacrosse game with two great teams going at it. We have nothing to be ashamed of." Sportsmanship and thrills in a big game -- it was a contest to remember.
The softball team (pictured), which is used to winning Ivy championships, will not be celebrating another title this year. Both an inconsistent defense and hot-and-cold bats have contributed to the team's .500 record (21-21 overall, 8-4 Ivy league). But while the team won't advance to the postseason, pitcher Sarah Peterman '00 is a serious contender for Ivy League Pitcher of the Year. This year she has 20 complete games, her record is 13-9, and she sports a gaudy .85 ERA. During a recent stretch, she pitched six consecutive complete-game shutouts. As strong as those numbers are, Peterman's record might be even better if the team hadn't allowed 32 unearned runs while she was on the mound.
The men's heavyweight crew team beat Brown by a boat length to maintain its perfect 5-0 record in the Ivy League. With the win over Brown, the men completed a 9-0 regular season. On May 1, the women's open varsity eight beat the University of Virginia, the top-ranked boat in the east, by three seconds to improve to 9-1. The women entered the race ranked sixth in the nation.
The men's tennis team (16-7 overall, 5-2 Ivy) won its last two matches to finish second in the Ivy League. The women (12-5 overall, 5-2 Ivy) also won their last two matches to finish third.
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